Serious Girls

The escort service business, up close and unpleasant

Ray is handing out flyers on Washington Avenue at four o'clock in the morning, looking for girls the way his boss told him to: young, but not too young. Pretty. Sexy. Girls with other girls. Girls without guys. Girls who are alone. Girls who look like they might be up for an adventure or hard up for cash.

"Serious girls" is what the boss, Neil, calls them on the flyer. Printed on purple paper decorated with a drawing of a girl sipping champagne, the handout lays out in meticulous detail the characteristics Neil finds desirable. Girls must be over 18 but under 25. They must not be working models, nightclub dancers, or professional entertainers.

"The type of person we want is someone who is private and discreet, not an exhibitionist or a showoff," reads the flyer. "That person must be honest, loyal, and reliable. The person's time must be their own and should be free from the control of another person. If you choose to be different or open-minded, no one should know about it or be in a position to interfere with your choice. You should not be living with someone who is curious, overbearing, or suspicious of your private behavior with others, nor should you currently be living with a sexual or romantic partner.

"If you decide to indulge your fantasies, release your inhibitions, or engage in private consensual recreation, you should do so with complete privacy and discretion. . . . You should not feel guilt or shame when privately indulging a strong, creative, erotic, sensual side; however, you should be the type of person who can easily conceal that side in the interest of discretion."

The flyer rules out "moody, domineering, temperamental people. No gang girls or girls bizarre in appearance with tattoos or other inappropriate self-mutilations." No drug addicts. No alcoholics. No one who is depressed.

Ray distributes the flyers with a friendly smile, trying to encourage the girls to take them, to be open to possibility. That's a challenge because Ray has just turned 50, and his careworn features don't inspire much confidence. "Some ladies know what it is and don't want it. Others take it. They have the option to read it, throw it away, whatever," he says.

Down on his luck, Ray is happy to get the six dollars an hour Neil pays him. Years ago he managed a massage parlor out in California. Half his customers were vice cops, he says. "It's not what you think," he says.

Focusing on the foot traffic, Ray is surprised when he's summoned to a patrol car parked at the corner. A license check turned up a four-year-old charge for drunk driving; Ray never showed up for court.

He is placed under arrest.
A call to the phone number listed on the flyer yields a recording of a female voice: "You should be sure that this is something you want to do. That it is something that you would find interesting and enjoyable, and if it isn't then please don't go any further. Hang up now. This isn't for you."

I leave my home number and an alias and wait, but not long. The phone rings.
"Hello?"
"Lisa. You called on the flyer, I guess." A man's voice with clipped New England tones. Late thirties, maybe.

"Yes," I say.
"What type of work do you do?"
"I'm not doing anything right now." I try to sound tentative. Young. Insecure.

"Basically unemployed?"
"Yes."
He asks what I look like. Height. Weight. Hair color. His voice is low and he coughs often, a low choke, as if he's nervously gulping down a laugh. He asks my age. I tell him 24.

He explains that the work is mostly at night and that girls usually don't make less than $300 a week, though they can make as much as $2000. "The biggest problem that you run into around here is people seem to want to tell their friends what they're doing. Hnh-hnh." His laugh is truncated and bitter. "That's where they run into a lot of problems.

"The clients are very nice, hospitable people," he adds. "They don't threaten or injure anybody or do anything like that."

"I guess what you do depends on what the situation is?"
"Well, I do tell people this, that most of the situations involve nudity. And if somebody can't handle that or it starts to make somebody uncomfortable, they shouldn't be doing this."

"I don't mind nudity. I'm just wondering about --"
"Well, in private, I would say, you know. Let me put it on a practical level. If I just wanted to see nude women and I had money to spend, I would probably go to a nightclub or buy a magazine or something like that. I wouldn't be spending $200 a hour." There is a thickening in his voice. "Now, if I wanted perhaps someone who was nude who was into acting out fantasies or something else, that's when I would probably go and spend the money. You know what I'm saying? I'm not there to monitor the situation: two people in private, with nudity. I would say that there's a good possibility that they would have other things on their minds." He manages a real laugh this time.

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